New York Carib News

Earl Phillips – A Career Built On Hard Work, Integrity And A Vision



A career built on hard work, integrity, and a vision for the future and a stalwart for the protection of workers and their rights.

For 11 years, Earl Phillips was Secretary/Treasurer of TWU Local 100 with a membership of over 44,000.

Representing a union that is the bedrock of workers rights in New York City and has an impact on the operation of the City, its movement, as no other union, had to be sensitive to their workers’ needs.  the city’s transportation, and it was always at the forefront of people’s minds in New York city.

And for 11 years, Earl Phillip was the number two person in this union providing that steady hand that was needed In so many difficult and sometimes volatile union relationships. Earl represents the kind of contributor to what Carib News has focused on as we celebrate Caribbean-American heritage month in June, and that is the partnership for progress that is formed between Caribbean-Americans and the wider community, a partnership that works hand in hand for the good and development of people in general at the  forefront of the struggle.

One early lesson for Earl Phillips, he said, was to listen to moms, listen to your mother. Earl’s mother migrated to the United States as so many women from the Caribbean do to develop a program, a pathway for their children to join them as they grow older and become ready to participate in the life of the United States.  Earl in fact, was what people would refer to as a barrel kid, stuff was sent back there and he was quite comfortable in Barbados. In fact, he talks about his only ambition was to be like his father, a first class auto mechanic. That was his dream, that was his ambition, and that was what he saw for himself.

And so he knew the value of a good Workman, and he was educated and trained in the school in Barbados to be a first class auto mechanic, and that he was. He worked in a number of major shops in Barbados and was happy to be in that position. But his mom kept telling him, Earl, you have to come to the United States. There are opportunities here, but he resisted. But mom, as most Caribbean mothers are, persisted, and Earl finally came to New York in 1987 at the age of 21, listening to his mother; his world changed, and the world of people that who have been in touch with Earl, has also changed.

He came to the US and found employment relatively quickly because of his skills and because of his love for the auto mechanic industry. And so he was working at a trade that he knew he mastered and could survive with. But here again, the Caribbean culture and combination kicked in because his friend, determined that Earl was much better and deserved to move in a more focused direction than a regular auto mechanic shop.  In the brotherhood of the region he not only insisted on Earl looking to get in an established organization with health benefits and a future, he literally got the application, filled it out and submitted it on Earl’s behalf to move him a a brother. And so we see now the old question of a village working to advance a career, not necessarily a child at this time, but a member of that village.

And through the instrumentality of friends, the determination of mother, Earl ended up in the MTA bus mechanic program, doing what he loves to do, but now in a structure that he could have an impact that is full sets skills and skills training and passion, passion for good work, passion for the safety of himself and his colleague all converged for Earl  in New York, and from there on, it was Earl Phillips in his element as a trade person, as a visionary and as a hardworking individual, bloomed and came to the attention of his superior.  Before long Earl was made the safety director of his union because of his commitment to his fellow workers, his own work ethics, and his own steadiness of purpose that you can’t miss when you speak to Earl.

Earl Phillips represented a story of achieving part of the American dream and working with his fellow workers to assist them too in achieving the American dream.

He met people from all walks of life and all different situations in the union and became an almost natural leader because of his own interest and his own commitment. He devoted his full attention as he has done with respect to his own career, his full attention to that of the union and its fellow workers, which could not be denied and could not be overlooked. He had created an atmosphere and he was recognized for it.

And so even in the rough and tumble of union politics, which is tough and very difficult, Earl Phillips was able to emerge even after initial setbacks in local politics emerge as a deciding and determined leader of the union, and so for four full terms, he was elected and reelected as Secretary/Treasurer. While Earl did not care for the intricacies of the politics of the union, he was recognized as a very necessary part of union leadership that was desired for the TWU. 

John Samuelson, Local 100 President saw in Earl the qualities that he liked. President Samuelson characterized Earl Phillips as a man of great integrity.

He is devoted first and foremost to his union membership, and I am confident he will lend a sure and steady hand to Local 100, as we begin the difficult contract fight; this was the characterization of Earl Phillips.  In addition to Earl’s role as Secretary/Treasurer, he has served as TWU Local 100 Trustee on the Board of New York City Employee Retirement System (NYCERS) which manages assets totaling in excess of hundred and $37 billion. A champion of diversity for the union, a champion for clean energy for the union, clean, safe working environment, a champion for training for the young people coming into the union and looking to the future.

Earl Phillips has made an impact In the union, the city and the country that will have sustaining value. And in his retirement from the union, he states in no uncertain terms.  that he wants to leave when he is at his best and can move on to other things that now he has been exposed to. Earl is very close to his family.  When I ask how he might be characterized by his children – he has a son and a daughter – he thought about it and said, they’ve always referred to him as never, that he never stops fighting, that he doesn’t have to be loud to fight and to win. But he’s always on the mark to get things done sometimes in a quiet, but forceful way, a team player with grit and determination, and they admire their father for those qualities.

The recipient of numerous awards, he has been on Carib News Power 100  list for the past five years, he has always been a key player supporting a number of the key educational and cultural institution throughout the region and in the Caribbean, and has always been looking to support the development of his people in so many ways.

So when asked about the retirement, you’ll get a smile. With that knowing smile, you know this ain’t quite retirement for Earl, not from his own drive and interest. And he has, like he always does the vision of the future;he talks interestingly enough about the Caribbean region, its potential and its possibility.

As  a good friend of the current Prime Minister of Barbados the Hon. Mia Mottley, he talks about the need for engagement  and the possibility of collaboration and alliances. And so we expect to see more of Earl Phillips, and more of the qualities that he has brought to his life, to his family and to his community, and we are all better because of it.

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